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Meteors bring holiday cheer – if it’s clear

Image: Geminids
A Geminid meteor makes an impression in an all-sky photo captured in 2011. (Credit: NASA)

The most reliable meteor shower of the year reaches its peak tonight – but to catch the Geminids, you’ll have to find a patch of clear, dark sky.

That’s difficult to do in the Seattle area. There’s a glimmer of hope, however: Theweather outlook improves as Sunday night turns into Monday morning, and it gets a lot better by Monday night. With any luck, there’ll still be some Geminids to see. So let’s assume you do find clear skies sometime in the next couple of days.

The Geminids appear every year from Dec. 4 to 17. They peak on Dec. 13-14, when Earth passes right through the trail of cosmic grit and pebbles left behind by an asteroid or burned-out comet called 3200 Phaeton. When those bits of debris pass through the upper atmosphere, they leave bright meteoric trails behind.

This year is a good one because the crescent moon makes an early exit, leaving a nice glare-less sky to look up into. Under peak conditions, you could see as many as 100 meteors per hour, including showy fireballs.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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